Chinese carriers saw their first-quarter passenger traffic reach an all-time high, with domestic traffic recovering well beyond pre-pandemic levels. 

Data from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) shows Chinese carriers to have carried close to 180 million passengers in the January-March quarter this year, 38% higher year on year, and more than 10% higher compared to the first quarter of 2019. System-wide traffic grew 46% year on year, and was 13% higher than pre-pandemic levels. 

China airport information display

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Domestic traffic led the sharp increase seen in the first quarter: CAAC data indicates domestic passenger volumes, at 160 million, were up 14% versus the first quarter of 2019. International passenger volumes, however, have yet to recover fully. Chinese airlines carried 14.1 million international passengers during the quarter, or about 78% of 2019 levels. 

CAAC data also shows that cargo volumes hit historic highs: Chinese operators carried slightly over 2t of cargo in the quarter, a 34% jump year on year and about 20% higher than 2019 volumes. 

The agency states: “In the first quarter of 2024, [the civil aviation sector] got off to a good start, with both passenger volumes and cargo…volumes hitting the highest values in the first quarter of previous years.”

The traffic results come as Chinese carrier emerge from nearly three years of pandemic-led travel curbs. The ‘zero-Covid’ restrictions led to a collapse in international travel demand - and stymied domestic traffic recovery - at the height of the pandemic.